Om Improvement - Yogaville

The Washington Post/February 7, 1999
By Gary Lee

Type: Spiritual retreat focusing on meditation, with some related New Age treatments.

Contact: Satchidananda Ashram-Yogaville, Buckingham, Va., 1-800-858-9642,

Treatment Taken: Welcome weekend package. Includes two nights' accommodations, three (vegetarian) meals daily, a yoga class, a guided meditation session, a satang or spiritual gathering, a seminar on integral yoga, and a tour of the grounds and facilities. Cost: $130, plus $50 extra for a mighty fine massage.

Other Services Available: Alternative medicine, sessions in the Alexander Technique, chiropractic treatments, energy therapy (including reiki, chakra balancing and polarity), facials, aromatherapy and massages (deep tissue and shiatsu). Rates for double rooms in the Lotus Inn, a basic but tidy guest house, are $95 a night on weekends. All meals are included. Special weekend or week-long packages are offered throughout the year, focusing on intensive yoga training and other techniques.

The Report: Though located about 45 minutes south of Charlottesville, Yogaville has a California feel to it, circa 1969. The staff, clad in Hari Krishna peach outfits, seemed so in touch with their spiritual side that whenever I looked them in the eye, I wanted to say OM shanthi. Meat is a four-letter word. Dishes made of tofu, dairy products and all manner of vegetables were uniformly excellent. Footwear of any kind is discouraged once you step indoors.

They don't call it Yogaville for nothing. Yoga and meditation are the centerpieces of life at the ashram. My days began with a predawn walk to a guided mediation session. A small group sat on the floor while an instructor guided us through an hour of chants and other meditation techniques. As morning broke, we moved into a yoga training session. The instructor offered lots of personal attention, including assistance hoisting my forty-something body into a vertical headstand.

Spirituality is a strong part of the Yogaville experience. A half-hour meditation session is held daily at the Lotus Shrine, a stunning New Age temple rising above the campus. Satsang, an interdenominational spiritual service, is held every Saturday evening. When Sri Swami Satchidananda, Yogaville's founder and guru, is in residence, he appears at the service to offer guidance. (Many staff and guests are devotees.)

For all of the contortions and chanting, the mood at Yogaville is relaxed and unobtrusive. The motto of the place--"Truth is one; paths are many"--reflects a deeply held respect for the gamut of Western and Eastern faiths and belief systems. A full slate of activities is offered, but guests are not required to participate in any. You can fill your days with yoga, massages and vegetarian meals, or wander the grounds with flowers in your hair.

Those who opt for the latter approach are in for a treat. Sprawled across the undulating hills of Virginia's Buckingham County, Yogaville is in as serene and idyllic an environment as I could imagine. Trails through the woods surrounding the place are great for hiking. The James River, which runs through the property, enhances the mood.

Yogaville has a Spartan feel to it--no lotions with fancy names, no room service (meals are taken cafeteria-style). Many guests sat on the floor and ate at low-lying tables. Plaid shirts and trousers seemed to be the order of dress. Rates are in keeping with the no-frills aura: Rooms in a dorm with a shared bath, an alternative to the Lotus Inn, run as cheap as $40 a night in midweek, including meals.

High Point: The early-morning meditation session, which began in predawn darkness and climaxed with the blue light of morning streaming into the window.

Low Point: The continuous--and, by my tastes, excessive--references to and quoting of the views of Swami Satchidananda.


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